Graded on a Curve:
Def Leppard,
Hysteria

Hello music fans! You’re joining me here live from lovely Pyongyang, North Korea, where I’m about to sit down with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, who is about to make a big musical announcement!

And here comes Kim now, ready to verbally spar in a glittering WWE wrestling jacket and tights, a baby tiger cradled in his arms! What chubby charisma! What a dazzling smile! It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who had a mid-sized city executed for sneezing during one of his 5-1/2-hour speeches!

A palace lackey seats us in two very uncomfortable solid-gold chairs, another palace lackey brings Kim his jade bong and baggy filled with primo Godfather OG, and after we both take a couple of hits and I get very, very paranoid, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.

You don’t plan to have me killed, do you?

Ha, ha. Never. You are my favorite Western Rock Critic. Your extremely positive review of Christopher Cross echoed many of my own insights on the genius who brought us “Sailing.” We Christopher Cross fans must stick together.

So what’s the big announcement?

For many years I have banned Western Music. It is decadent, serves no propaganda purpose, and makes people dance. North Korea is like the town of Bomont, and I will not put up with any Kevin Bacon-like footlooseness. Such counter-revolutionary hijinks could undermine my very cool Cult of Personality.

That said, I have given my personal okay to certain types of Western Music over the years. My all-female military ensemble The Morenbong Band has been known to play the theme from my favorite movie Rocky, for example. I cannot watch Sylvester Stallone triumph against adversity without crying, and then killing anyone who has witnessed me crying. I’ve tragically lost many beloved family members in this manner.

And?

Don’t get pushy. I have decided, after much soul-searching and many, many playings of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” to make Def Leppard’s Hysteria available for sale in North Korea’s sole music store, Pyongyang’s Oppressive Sounds. Citizens will now be allowed to buy it alongside any of the store’s other six musical offerings, all of which are entitled Music to Love Kim By.

That said, anyone caught with a Style Council LP will be summarily executed. And that goes double for The The and I mean that quite literally. You will be executed twice.

Why the change of heart?

You’re the big rock critic. I would think the answer would be self-evident. I’m in love with Def Leppard’s big, pop-inflected hair metal sound, which splits the difference between Iron Maiden and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” without sounding like a compromise.

I know through the eavesdropping of my secret police that North Korea’s populace is in love with Queen. I even had to hang two of my favorite generals for humming “We Will Rock You.” Me, I do not enjoy Queen’s hard rock brand of martial rebop. It is not hep. Def Leppard is most definitely hep. They make me want to snap my finger’s, daddy-o.

Why Hysteria in particular?

Good question. I know 1981’s High ‘n’ Dry has its advocates because of its harder rocking edge, and I like to play it myself. But by 1987 the boys had sacrificed metal chops for a more polished commercial sound, and it comes as no surprise to me they hit pop paydirt with Hysteria. Let me put it this way. If you can listen to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Armageddon It” back to back without flipping your wig, you hate pop music.

As for “Armageddon It,” it has become a sort of catch phrase with me. Whenever my Minister of Defense asks me if I understand our latest nuclear capabilities, I replay, “Armageddon it.” Then I have him shot for questioning my super-human intelligence. Why part of “infallible” don’t people understand?

Speaking of missiles, what do you think of “Rocket”?

It begins with an explosion and turns into a blast. And it has an almost New Wave feel to it, which I’m sure super-producer Mutt Lange had a lot to do with. Lots of great backing vocals too. But what strikes me most about “Rocket” and every other song on the LP is how little they have to do with one’s received notions about heavy metal. Or hair metal for that matter. These guys have soft rock hearts and they’re proud of it. They are not out to frighten, intimidate, or outrage. They’re not even overtly misogynistic. They seek to win friends and influence people with their crisp production values and steadfast adherence to the musical middle of the road.

Winning friends and influencing people. A lot like you, wouldn’t you say?

Exactly. I am a friend to everyone. A people person. Unfortunately the people around me have a way of disappearing under mysterious circumstances. See that photograph of me on the wall? I used to be surrounded by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Good friends of mine, or were until they put out Liverpool. Suffice it to say you haven’t run into them at your local Starbucks, have you?

Let’s talk a bit more about the cool pop overlay.

Sure. Listen to “Animal.” It could have been recorded by anyone, including the Indigo Girls. Personally I would have loved to hear a Cyndi Lauper version. It’s the universal pop song. That said, I would have liked a sharper guitar solo. Steve Clark and Phil Collen do not rank highly on my list of guitar gods but that’s okay–for the most part the guitars are there to serve the greater good, just like in any working communist republic. Now Rick Allen, different story; his drum work sticks out, and gives even their most pop-friendly offerings some welcome sonic oomph. Of course showboatism has its limits; If I were the leader of Def Leppard, I would cut his other arm off for being uppity.

But let’s face it; Hysteria won hearts and minds on the strength of its vocals. The great Joe Elliott’s rocks balls on lead, and the rest of the boys pitch in wonderfully. I like to think of them as a reverse mullet–Elliott is the party up front, and the other guys are the business in back.

The sound’s kinda homogenized, don’t you think?

The LP sounds like it was put through a food processor, and that’s one of the reasons I love it. Def Leppard reminds me of Boston; their sound is super-slick, and you can practically smell all of those machines in the studio working overtime. It’s an inhuman sound, really, and I like it that way. If I wanted raw I would listen to the revanchist stylings of Iggy and the Stooges or the New York Dolls.

But I am a big fan of technology, because it is with technology that I will one day rule the world. North Korea is perceived as a primitive society, but I am one very slick and high-tech dude. As I will prove on my next solo album, which is going to make Hysteria sound like a Library of Congress field recording.

You do understand that Hysteria isn’t very popular with the hipsterati.

This is unfortunate. Your running dogs of Yankee imperialism dismiss it as product, as if there’s something wrong with product. The Monkees were product. Cheetos are product. And North Korea needs all the product it can get. Have you been into any of our grocery stores? Good luck finding a box of Lucky Charms.

Besides, it has its supporters even amongst critics. Have you read Chuck Eddy’s Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe? A great bathroom read. Eddy puts Hysteria at No. 19 on his list, just behind the Dictators’ Go Girl Crazy! But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Eddy also places Teena Marie’s Emerald City at No. 10. The man’s methods are unorthodox, to say the least.

Any other comments?

Hysteria is a bop LP. It bops along better than anything this side of Van Halen’s “Jump.” Check out “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”: if I allowed dancing, this would be the one my people would be forced at gunpoint to dance to. And Hysteria-era Def Leppard still had a little hard rock in ‘em, as they prove on “Run Riot,” which sounds like speeded-up AC/DC. My only reservation is that they get a bit smushy on the title track, which might as well be a Bryan Adams ballad. I plan to leave it off the North Korean release.

What are you going to replace it with?

Biz Markie’s version of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” of course. Biz simply couldn’t be bothered to memorize the lyrics, and his mumbling turns a great song into even greater drunken karaoke song.

Won’t that confuse some people?

Perhaps. But what are they going to do, complain? Every single person in North Korea bought my bargain-priced 2011 LP Kim Sings Kim, on which I covered my favorite Kim Fowley songs. And every single person in North Korea sent me a fan letter telling me how much they loved my version of “Cherry Bomb.” It was that or a 5-year stint in a reeducation camp.

Any last words before I go?

Any last words will be yours, I’m afraid. I’m not the guy whose Bokbunja-ju was laced with a fatal slow-acting nerve agent. Bong hit for the road?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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  • Robert Sharpe

    I got away from Def Leppard after “Pyromania,” after which they became just a bit too radio-friendly. By the way, Joe Elliott is a huge Mott the Hoople fan, he fronts a Mott cover band called Down ‘n Outz,(just sayin’, I’d like to read a Mott critique). By the way, part 2, I interviewed Rick Savage in 1982 and asked what he’d like to be if he wasn’t a rock star, he said a professional football (soccer) player. Guess he just had to settle.

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